United Made It Hard For Themselves... Again
This United team is the most frustrating since... well, for a long time. For some reason we insist on missing unmissable chances, letting opponents off the hook and falling apart at the worst times.
Today's game against Bolton was a perfect example. United dominated the first 75 minutes and should have been four or five up by that time. The front four of Owen, Giggs, Berbatov and Valencia carved Bolton open time and again, especially in the second half while Carrick and Anderson shielded a defence that was reasonably solid despite the absence of Vidic and the inclusion of Gary Neville.
And everything was there for a real exhibition: the early goal (Zat Knight messed up horribly but who cares?), the relentless attacking, a dodgy Bolton defence. A brilliant counter-attack was finished expertly by Antonio Valencia after the half hour mark - the Ecuadorian netted his first United goal. At that point it seemed certain we would go back on top.
And United actually improved after the break, Giggs at his majestic best, Owen thriving on Berbatov's passes and flick-ons, Valencia creating panic with his every run. But somehow the ball just could not find its way into the net. Jaaskalainen was brilliant, as usual, we were unlucky, as it often happens in these kind of games - so Bolton remained in with a shout.
They only needed a goal out of nothing and they found that with 15 minutes remaining, Taylor heading home after a poor clearance from Gary Neville gave Bolton a chance. And United actually fell apart: we could barely get out of our own half, we were subjected to a fierce aerial bombardment and panic reigned amongst our troops.
Fortunately, Edwin van der Sar, returning from injury, stood like a rock amid the raging sea and refused to be beaten even though our once-great defence could not really cope with Bolton's height and physical strength. It's hardly worth mentioning that we could have put the game beyond doubt by finishing off one of the threatening counter-attacks - nobody can be really surprised to see United failing to take away their chances.
In the end we had to be grateful for three points out of a match we should have sealed with half an hour to go. Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov played well: their movement off the ball was excellent, their passing was precise, they were always available and made all the right decisions - but they could not put the ball into the net, no matter what.
So, once again, United completed a game from memory but it was enough to send us back to the top of the table. Last time it was only a brief stay - hopefully we'll be able to keep our position a bit longer this time around.